Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Judit Polgar/Garry Kasparov, Linares 1994
In response to a comment in this post on Easter Sunday. An anonymous posted a videotape of the famous (infamous) Kasparov "knight move" in a game with then 17-year-old Judit Polgar at the 1994 Linares tournament and asked if I could provide more information about the event. I post: From Linares! Linares! A Journey into the Heart of Chess, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, New In Chess, Aklamaar, The Netherlands, 2001, the following is excerpted from the Chapter entitled "La Nina:" As I listen politely to Rentero pitying himself [about the Linares tournament of 1988 when Women’s Chess Champion GM Maia Chiburdinadze played in the event and had a disastrous outing], I know that it is in fact a different story he wants to tell. He wants to bring up the incident that would never have caused such a stir if it hadn’t been for the involvement of Judit Polgar. An unfortunate incident, which may put chess in a bad light and should therefore better be forgotten, so he wants me to believe. And then again, knowing Rentero, perhaps not, because all attention for his tournament, in whatever form, is more than welcome to him. In order to meet him halfway, I ask the question that he undoubtedly wants to hear: "Do you really intend to maintain the ban on showing the video tape of the game between Polgar and Kasparov here in this hotel?" Decidedly and with rising indignation, Rentero tries to remove any doubt: "That is out of the question. Kasparov is the world champion and a guest in my house. I will not allow his reputation to be besmirched here." The fuss arose in the fifth round, on the day when seventeen-year-old Judit Polgar played her first game ever against Kasparov. The Spanish press had been enjoying the historic moment in their previews for days. The youngest and most ambitious of the chess-playing Polgar sisters was to prove in a direct confrontation with the world’s strongest grandmaster that women also could play chess. … … When she shakes Kasparov’s hand at the start of their game, practically no seat in the playing hall is left unoccupied. She herself is tense but not exceedingly nervous. The first four rounds have passed off reasonably well. For a defeat against Illescas, she made up with a victory over Topalov. In the games with Black against Gelfand and Ivanchuk that followed, she had good changes of getting more than the draws she achieved in the end. She had a good premonition today when she had lunch in the Restaurant Himilce. But this feeling soon disappears when after some twenty moves she loses control of the game. Kasparov is teaching her a strategy lesson in one of his favourite defensive systems. Judit sees the black pieces getting more and more threatening and gaining the upper hand. She feels that she has been outplayed to such an extent that toward s her thirtieth move she seriously begins to consider resigning. She puts it off for a bit longer when Kasparov opts for another continuation rather than the deathblow she feared was coming. Then it is Kasparov’s turn to make his thirty-fifth move. With great composure, he picks up the Knight from the d7-square and brings it forward, to c5. Judit feels disbelief flushing her heart. This is an impossible move. A downright blunder. When Kasparov actually lands the Knight on the c5-square, her heart leaps into her mouth. Is she being given the unlikely chance here to make one simple move and, as if by magic, convert an imminent collapse into a position that may even be winning? Try not to think of it, she warns herself in a thousandth of a second, but it is too late. The mistake has entered the field of tension surrounding the board, and she feels that the far-reaching results of the move that Kasparov is executing have now registered with himself as well. But she has also seen that this awareness came too late. For a very short moment, almost imperceptibly, he released the Knight that he is still keeping in the c5-square but now firmly gripping it with three fingers against. Judit is certain. For a very short moment, for a split of a split second, his fingers let go of the piece. There is no need for a chess player to see such a thing clearly. You feel it. It is in your system as a player. These are the first important rules you learn when you begin to play competitive chess. To touch is to move, and to release is to have moved. When you touch a piece or a pawn, you have to move it, even if it means losing the game. Once you have released a piece or a pawn, your move has become irrevocable. This goes for all levels of play. Young Bobby Fischer, for instance, concentrating deeply in a game against German grandmaster Unzicker, happened to be fiddling with his h-pawn in the assumption that it had been captured and taken off the board. When he realized to his dismay what he was doing, he didn’t have to think twice before accepting the consequences of his mistake. He moved the h-pawn, causing irreparable damage to his position, and lost quickly. It is a code of honor. Touch a piece and you will have to move it. Let a piece go, even for the shortest possible moment, and you will have to resign yourself to the move you have made. You bring down shame on yourself if you break this code of honour. Not knowing what to do about the situation, Judit raises her eyes to look at Kasparov. He is holding on to the Knight, which is still on the c-5 square. Showing no feelings whatsoever, he sits there, thinking. His face, normally so explicit, is impassive. Not the tiniest muscle moves to betray what his thoughts are. Then, without further ado, he retires the Knight to the square from where it came and pores over the position. He is clearly aware that he will have to move the Knight but the expression on his face also indicates that he intends to consider calmly where it will go. Judit feels alone. She looks at Rentero, who is following the game from a few yards away. She looks at Carlos Falcon, who is standing next to him and who, being the arbiter, should have intervened. Uncertain, she looks at her mother and her eldest sister, who are sitting on the front row in the hall. It doesn’t help her in the least. Three long minutes go by before Kasparov makes his move. He picks up the Knight, moves it back in a flowing movement to the f8-square and writes his move down. Judit looks around again, knowing that she is going to lose this game after all. For ten more moves she tries to order her thoughts. It doesn’t go too well. When she has resigned and is handing her score-sheet across the table to Kasparov and he is handing his to her for signature, she cannot restrain herself. As neutrally as possible, she asks Kasparov: "Did you let got of the Knight or didn’t you?" Kasparov is prepared for the question. With a fatherly smile, he reassures her: "Come on, what do you think, with a few hundred spectactors as witnesses?" More to follow.